by Rosanne Ullman

“Thank you for calling XYZ Salon and Day Spa. If you’d like to make an appointment, please press one. Thank you. Please insert your client number or use the keypad to spell your name. Welcome, Emily. Please use the keypad to insert your preferred day of the appointment. Thank you. Please press 1 for morning, 2 for afternoon or 3 for evening. Thank you. Please insert the first three letters of the first name of a service provider, or press 1 if you have no preference. Thank you. Please press 1 if you want the same set of services you had at your last appointment and 2 if you do not. Thank you. We are happy to accommodate a change in your service selection. Please press 1 if you want a hair cut or 2 if you do not. Thank you. We are scheduling your hair cut. Please press 1 if you want a color servi ce with your hair cut or 2 if you do not. Thank you. Please press 1 if you want an all-over color service only, 2
if you want highlights only, 3 if you want color with highlights or 4 if you
want some other color service ...”

Even if you slogged through that paragraph, what’s the chance a client would hang in there for the whole phone call? Yet in 1998, SALON TODAY reported that clients would soon be able to book automatically—not only online, but also by phone.

In fact, the 2000 technology issue of SALON TODAY reported that one salon rolled out a voicemail system that was so confusing to callers that it cost the salon $100,000 in business. The owner recouped some of the business by issuing an apology and offering 10 percent off services in a direct mail piece.


The Ancient 1990s

In 1997, only 38 percent of salon professionals responding to a survey indicated they had access to a computer in the salon, and some were still converting to the Windows format from DOS. Yet progressive salon owners already understood the many ways software capabilities could impact their business. Even early software generated graphs that put staffers’ productivity in black-and-white and tracked client demographics and purchases. The implications for staff motivation in the former case and target marketing in the latter were exciting.

In addition, the computer had a knack for detecting the nuances of salon operation. For example, now owners could find out how many repeat clients asked for a different stylist. Because capturing some of that information required computers to listen in on phone calls, salon phone systems became increasingly technical and integrated into the software system.

Bar code technology was a natural for
salons. Why sell products any other way? Since bar codes could hold all sorts of information, some salons attached them to services, too.

The internet opened up a new world of networking to salon professionals who found themselves burning the midnight oil in chat rooms, on message boards and at The Salon Association’s online “List.”

For owners, the power of internet marketing started to take shape as they began sending e-mail blasts and e-newsletters to clients.


Early Problems

As computer use heightened, simple human error drove demand for a feature we now take for granted: “undelete.” Systems were crashing and, even though owners recognized the need to back up the data, typically that was done only at the end of each workday. In addition, salon employees were not the most eager to be trained in tech. All of these issues prompted owners to demand technical support from software makers, who responded by launching internet user groups.


Spa Specifics

Spas had their own technological issues. Even though software was being designed for spas’ unique needs, it was having trouble booking a “day of beauty”—a challenging task because of its puzzle of fitting together many treatments with varying time frames, different technicians and knotty rules about which services should or should not follow others.

Spa menus stayed current with the times, offering cutting-edge services like microdermabrasion, oxygenating treatments and laser hair removal. A new category of products containing specialized ingredients became known as “cosmeceuticals.”  Later on, combination equipment hit the market, permitting spas to purchase a single machine to cover hydrotherapy, Vichy showers, steam and wet table treatments, while sanitation got a boost with new self-cleaning pedicure and hydrotherapy equipment.

In hair, bio-ionic technology impacted both tools and products. Chemists also played with texture, making strides in three areas that had been relatively static: hair loss and thinning solutions; straightening products and systems; and hair extensions.


Greater Sophistication

The sprawling technological foundation
established in the 20th century began building upward in the early 21st; it wasn’t that more was added, as much as that what we had was enhanced. DSL made the online connection speedier. Bar codes now carried information about the purchaser, not just the product. Spa software finally tackled day-of-beauty booking. E-mail uses expanded to thank-yous and
appointment reminders.

In 2000, it was easy to see how deeply computers had infiltrated the salon environment by their visibility alone. It was not unusual for a salon to have a couple of computers at the front desk, a computer in the reception area for
clients to use and terminals throughout the salon for staff to do quick checks on the day’s schedule, their sales totals or their increasingly detailed notes about clients. With all of that, it still wasn’t enough for some owners, who supplied each staff member with a pager or a PDA. In a big salon, the ability to page a staff member when a client arrived heightened the level of efficiency, professionalism and, ultimately, customer service.

Telephones continued to assume more of the day-to-day record-keeping, supported by call-identifying capabilities and creative “on-hold” marketing messages. Multi-salon businesses set up separate—frequently offsite—phone centers that handled all calls and booked in real time at the appropriate salon.


New Improvements

In addition to all of the faster/better/easier
advances, some new technology did take root. Swipe cards that could subtract a service from a total available amount began replacing paper gift certificates. As a plus, the cards caught clients’ fancy and catapulted gift certificate sales. By a year or two later, the cards were rechargeable and could be programmed to
include discount incentives. Swipe cards also were offered to salon professionals for trade show registration. The use of CD-ROMs as a business card/salon ad hybrid proved less successful, but for a year or so clients were taking home the disks. By the time DVDs and DVD burners came along, salons used them more for in-house training than for marketing.

As the decade progressed, information
like color formulas was stored in the salon’s system, which was now fully centralized for multi-salon operations. Clients enjoyed the
opportunity to book standing appointments
for the entire year, and online booking continued to gain momentum.

While PDAs, now collapsible with their bigger keyboards, grew indispensable for
educators and other traveling professionals, conducting business from home was even
more popular than conducting it from the road. In 2002 and 2003, software manufacturers
reported the ability to network from home as one of the most frequent salon owner requests. With networking came responsibility: Demand rose for virus protection and computer security measures.


Onboard and Online

In the 2000s, salons finally rocketed into cyberspace. As do-it-yourself web development software grew user-friendly, more salons created complex websites that carried photo galleries; video tours of the salon; live video feeds; shopping carts for e-commerce sales of in-house products and gift certificates; client surveys and quick polls; printable discount and referral cards; and even a “wish list” that served as a gift registry.

One of the most successful strategies that emerged from Web-based marketing was the last-minute attempt to fill holes in the schedule. Salons posted early-morning or night-before notices on their website or in e-mail blasts that listed open appointments—either with or without incentives for booking them. Owners still mention this among their favorite marketing advances, and clients love it as well.

Technology also inspired the concept of one-to-one marketing to get as much out of the existing client base as possible. With details about clients and their buying habits on hand, salons could micro-target. For example, a hair and nails client who recently added facials might respond well to an e-mailed invitation to try a spa pedicure for 10 percent off.


Media Circus

With so much advancement in video selections and music, salons have struggled with ways to use media to their best advantage. A salon with a sports theme can install plasma TVs everywhere and show a live game. But what about the mainstream salon? During this decade, they’ve experimented with video ideas ranging from looping salon-specific DVD programs to offering normal cable TV at every station, and with music from satellite radio or computer-generated iTunes.


Now and Next

Today’s salons embrace wireless technology;
clients can bring their laptops and log on through the salon’s wi-fi. Another big trend once again involves phones—cell phones this time. Clients can opt to receive notifications of deals and appointment confirmations as instant- or text-messages to their mobile phones. Then there’s biometrics—using the eye or finger as an identifier instead of a password or even a credit card—which keeps resurfacing in peeks at the future.

Software customization has always had its fans, and today owners want software that will generate customized reports. New software also will forecast trends—next week’s client count, next month’s inventory needs, next year’s total receipts. In marketing, the hot ticket is the
“frequent buyer” card.


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